The Amur tiger (also known as the Ussuri, Siberian, Altaic, Korean, Manchurian or North China tiger) is the largest and one of the least numerous subspecies of tigers.
Amur tigers can be as long as two metres and their tails can be one metre long. Females are only 75% of the size of the males. Adult tigers usually weigh up to 300 kilogrammes; the heaviest tiger on record weighed 384 kilogrammes. These tigers are very strong and are able to drag a horse's carcass for more than 500 metres.
The tiger's coat is beautifully coloured: it has dark horizontal stripes against an orange-brown background on its back and both sides. It is commonly believed that that the striped pattern is unique for each tiger - it would be difficult to meet two tigers with the same pattern of stripes. Despite the brightness, the stripes do serve as camouflage for the tigers.
Tigers live about 15 years on average. They can live up to 50 years, but they generally die earlier than that.
The tiger is a dominant carnivore living in a unique ecosystem, the Ussuri taiga. The condition of tiger populations is an indicator of the state of the environment in the entire Far East.
Tigers are predators who feed exclusively on animals, primarily larger prey. They spend most of the time hunting as only one in ten attempts to catch prey is successful. The animals' diet consists of Manchurian deer, wild boar and sika deer. To stay strong and healthy, the tiger needs to eat about 50 to 70 hoofed animals (Manchurian deer, sikas, roe deer or wild boars) a year. If these animals happen to be scarce in the tigers' habitat, then the tigers feed on badgers and raccoon dogs and they may also attack livestock and dogs. Amur tigers not only hunt but also catch fish: they catch fish in the shallow waters of highland rivers during spawning season. The tiger can eat up to 30 kilogrammes of food in one sitting and its daily ration is nine to ten kilogrammes of meat.
When food is plentiful, tigers quickly get fat and their hypodermic fat often grows five or six centimetres thick. Because of this, tigers can easily go without food for a week and even more between successful chases or in winter when they need to travel over great distances to new habitats. However, tigers may suffer from starvation and sometimes even die from emaciation during the snowy winters.
Although Amur tigers are widely believed to be man-eaters, they seldom wander into human territory or attack people. On the contrary, they try not to expose themselves to humans, although they are less fearful of humans than other large animals. Amur tigers are only likely to attack humans when they are wounded or forced into a corner.
The tiger is a solitary territorial predator, which is typical for the majority of big cats. The tiger usually stays within a particular range of land, though it sometimes travels great distances for food. The tiger marks its territory in a special way. Usually these are fragrant marks: the tiger splashes urine on trees or rocks. Sometimes it scratches the ground in places that it has marked. Besides this, the tiger scratches bark on trees with the claws of its front paws: such scratches can be found to two and a half metres above the ground and are indicative of the size of the animal that has left them. The adult male guards its territory from intruders, roaring to demonstrate its strength. However, tigers rarely fight.
The tigers greet one another with special sounds that they make by vigorously inhaling air through the nose and mouth. Friendly behaviour is marked by the animals touching their heads or faces, or rubbing their sides.
The Amur tiger is a quiet animal. Some zoologists who have studied the animal for many years have not heard the tiger roar even once. However, when searching for a mate, tigers, particularly females, are inclined to bellow often. If the tiger is irritated, it will growl hoarsely; when it is angry, it makes a characteristic "cough." When contented, it purrs like a house cat.
Tigers breed approximately every two years. These animals are polygamous: one male tiger can have one to three females living with it on its territory. A rival's appearance on its territory may end in fighting.
Gestation lasts 95 to 112 days and there are usually two to four cubs in a litter. During the first week of the nursing period, the tigress stays with the young at all times. Male tigers, on the other hand, do not look after the cubs at all. In the next three or four months the tigress only rarely leaves her cubs for a few hours. Soon, the cubs start following their mother, learning to hunt. The cubs stay with their mother for at least 18 to 24 months. Even after starting to lead their own lives, they continue to live in a group on their mother's territory for another few months. Young tigers are not very good at hunting, and therefore they are often left without food. In order to find food, they follow in their mother's tracks to pick up her leftovers. The tigers reach sexual maturity when they are three to four years old, but only half of all newborn cubs reach this age.
The Amur tiger is found in the southeast of Russia, along the Amur and Ussuri Rivers, in the northeast of China (Manchuria) and in the northern parts of North Korea. It ranges almost all over the Primorye Territory (except the Khorol district) and in the east of the Khabarovsk Territory. The northern boundary of its habitat is not far from 49 degrees north latitude. The animal's range extends about 1,000 kilometres from north to south and from 600 to 700 kilometres from east to west. Amur tigers are primarily found in the Sikhote Alin foothills and in the Lazovsky district of the Primorye Territory. They range in the valleys of the highland rivers and the valleys that are covered with Manchurian forests which are dominated by oak and cedar trees. Tigers also live in pure cedar forests in the mountains covered with deciduous vegetation, and also make their home in secondary forests. In winter, when game is scarce, they often roam near human settlements. Every adult tiger has a home range of his own, which averages between 250 and 450 square kilometres for females and up to 2,000 square kilometres for males.
The Amur tiger is one of the rarest species of animals in the world. There were still large tiger populations in the mid-19th century, but by the end of the 19th century up to 100 animals were killed annually. This pushed the Amur tiger to the brink of extinction by the late 1930s, when no more than 50 animals were left in the USSR. The shrinking population of Amur tigers has largely been caused by habitat destruction (deforestation), ever scarcer game (dwindling numbers of various hoofed animals) and overhunting by poachers.